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On John Piper, Sabbaticals and Rick Warren

Okay, so reading the comments on John Piper’s video where he invites Rick Warren to speak at the 2010 DG National Conference, Piper already predicted a firestorm of controversy for his decision.

Boy was he right.

This happens to come right on the heels of him announcing a nine-month sabbatical to work on his marriage and devote more time to his family. So some people are suspecting it’s a combination of poor judgement in all areas of his life which are leading to the ‘step down’ (just read the comments onthe video above).

Some, like Lane Chaplin, have expressed no further desire to support JP.

Others are simply decrying the decision as poor judgement.

Some are ready to toss Piper to the wolves, as they’ve been calling Piper things such as a ‘Trojan Horse‘ for years now.

I find it a bit interesting that Piper’s topic at Together for the Gospel 2010 (which I won’t be attending) is “Did Jesus Preach the Gospel of Evangelicalism ?“, which, in light of the theme of The Unadjusted Gospel, seems rather contradictory.  Why invite a man to speak at your national conference who actually preaches the very thing that you’re going to be speaking against at T4G ?

Upon giving Piper a listen, I *think* I have a fair idea of what Piper is up to.  It’s real simple.

Listen carefully to what he says to Rick Warren and what he asks Rick Warren to preach on.

When I wrote him, here’s what I said. And he’ll probably watch this video too. I said, “The conference is called ‘THINK: The Life of the Mind and the Love of God. I want you to come. You are the most well-known pragmatist pastor in the world. I don’t think you are a pragmatist at root. Come and tell us why thinking biblically matters to you in your amazingly pragmatic approach to ministry.” I want him to lay his cards on the table. I want him to tell us what makes him tick, because he does come across in much of what he says and does as very results oriented and pragmatic and not theologically driven. And yet, I met him for the first time last year at Ralph Winter’s funeral in Pasadena. And we sat beside each other on the platform for three hours. I like him because he sings. And he sings badly. And anybody who’s willing to sing and sings badly — I like him. And we were talkin’ beforehand and he said to me, “I’m reading all the works of Jonathan Edwards this year. I pick a great theologian every year and I read all of his collected works. I’m on volume 17 of the Yale series of Jonathan Edward’s works.” You’ve got to be kidding me. Nothin’ you have ever said would incline me to think . . . *CROWD LAUGHTER – TEE HEE!* So, these guys are gonna go interview him tomorrow, I think. So you can quote some of these things. I do think he is deeply theological. He is a brilliant man. He wouldn’t have the church he does or the PEACE plan or, uh, all the influence he does and of course the greatest sentence in the Purpose Driven Life is the first one, isn’t it? “It’s not about you; it’s about God.” The glory of God. So, I don’t think he’s emergent. At root I believe he is theological, and doctrinal, and sound. And, what makes him tick? Actively in doing church? Uh, I intend to find out. So, I like him. And I’m frustrated by some of his stuff.”

Folks like Michael Horton have interacted with Warren in the past and share the same theological concerns that Piper does in his last sentence here.

What was Piper thinking ?

I’m guessing the following:

1. For all the people who say Piper’s lost it, think for a moment.  The man has written the best present-day exegetical defense of Romans 9:1-23.  As a single author, he’s probably devoted more work toward answering the errors of N.T. Wright regarding the New Perspective.  He’s not stupid.   So when John Piper says “I think he’s sound”, I’ll give him the benefit of the doubt and not try to disown him as some have tried to do in their talks.  Piper wouldn’t invite, for example, Joel Osteen to speak at DG.  Why ? Simple – Osteen wouldn’t quote from the WCF.  Osteen also wouldn’t read Edwards (or any other theologian for that matter). Warren at least has degrees from Fuller (when it was still moderately biblical) and Southwestern.  So he has demonstrated the very thing Piper says he suspects of him.   Of course, he’s also contradicted the bulk of that in many of his talks, which brings me to point #2:

2. Piper’s question and speaking topic are HEAVILY loaded and quite blatant.  If Warren answers them honestly and from the suspected ‘theological’ basis sitting underneath of what he claims to privately believe, then he will end up refuting a good 99% of what he’s written in Purpose Driven Church and at least 80% of Purpose Driven Life.

3. Piper’s opening up larger dialogue with Warren and challenging him to grow here. He’s doing what some people say they would do if they had the chance.  He’s doing the opposite of simply spitting and cursing at the darkness – he’s lighting a candle here.

I think it’s a brilliant move and a brilliant gamble on Piper’s part.    Having 2-3 extra days to think on it, I’m not sure it will work, as Warren has proven himself to be a bit of a chameleon (and I’ve been around some of his disciples who do the same).  Part of the reason for that, of course, is that they never stop to think deeply about the implications of the doctrines of grace (or theology in general) and simply file away doctrinal truths as facts.

Piper’s invitation cuts to the heart of that sort of thinking.  I’m waiting to see what the outcome will be in Warren’s speech.

Meanwhile, instead of damning Pastor John as some have done, take the time and pray for him.  Ministry is a hard job and many armchair theologians are a bit too quick to hit the ‘submit’ button on their blogs, but not submit their thinking to a theology of grace regarding others.   At worst, treat him as a brother caught in sin and pray for his repentance.  At best, pray that his intentions for inviting Warren have the desired effect and help to bring Warren face to face with bankruptcy of his own pragmatism.